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NOVEMBER  i6ra,  1776, 





Read  before  the  New  York  Historical  Society,  at  its  Regular 
Meeting  on  December  5th,  1876,  in  commemoration  of  the  one 
hundredth  anniversary  of  the  capture  of  Mount  Washington  on 
November  i6th,  1776. 

Reprinted  from  the  "Magazine  of  American  History"  for  Feb 
ruary,  1877,  with  corrections  of  press  errors,  an  additional  Map,  and 
an  Appendix. 

EDITION     150    COPIES. 


Photo-lithographic  fac-simile  of  a  copy  taken  from  the  original  in  Cassel  for  Professor  Joy, 
now  in  the  possession  of  J.  Carson  Brevoort,  Esq. 

TRANSLATION  OF  THE  LEGEND  ON  THE  MAP. — The  attack  which  His 
Excellency  the  Hon.  General  Lieutenant  von  Knyphausen,  with  eight  Battal 
ions  of  Hessians  and  one  Battalion  of  Waldeckers,  on  the  16  November  1776, 
made  on  Fort  Washington,  taking  it  and  a  quantity  of  Ammunition  and  Pro 
visions,  and  2,600  American  Prisoners. 

A  Camp  before  the  Attack.  B  March  of  the  said  Regiments  for  King's 
Bridge.  C  Formation  of  the  Columns  of  which  one  on  the  right  and 
another  on  the  left.  D  The  Riflemen.  E  Enemy's  Line  of  Batteries. 
F  G  H  Fort  Washington,  Fort  Independence,  Speak-Devil  Fort  garrisoned 
by  the  Enemy.  /  Our  Batteries.  K  Hessian  Field  Artillery.  L  Quarters 
of  His  Excellency.  M  Do.  of  General  Major  Schmidt.  N  Do.  of  General 
Cleveland.  O  Do.  of  Col.  Rail.  P  Landing  of  the  English  Brigade  on 
the  feint.  Q  Frigate  that  made  a  strong  cannonade  at  the  beginning  of  the 


OF  NOVEMBER,  1776. 

FOUR  of  the  military  events  of  the  American  Revolution  occurred 
upon  the  island  of  New  York: — ist  The  landing  at  Kips  Bay,  and 
the  occupation  of  the  city,  by  the  British  army,  on  the   i$th  of 
September,  1776;    2d  The  action  of  Harlem  Plains  on  the  succeeding 
day ;    3d  The  capture  of  Mount  Washington  two  months  afterwards, 
and  4th  The  evacuation  of  the  island  and  the  victorious  entry  of  Wash 
ington,  on  the  25th  of  November,  1783. 

A  century  ago,  the  i6th  day  of  November  1776,  took  place  the  storm 
ing  and  capture  of  Mount  Washington,  with  its  fort,  garrison,  armament 
and  stores,  by  the  army  of  Sir  William  Howe,  who  had  been  just  made 
a  Knight  of  the  Bath  for  his  victory,  a  few  weeks  before,  at  Brooklyn 
Heights.  It  was  the  first  and  the  last  great  battle  ever  fought  on  the 
island  of  Manhattan  since  its  settlement  by  Europeans.  It  was  a  terrible 
disaster  to  the  American  arms,  and  a  heavy  blow  to  the  cause  of  the 
colonies.  It  gave  to  the  British  army  and  to  England  undisputed 
possession  of  the  city  and  harbor  of  New  York,  the  leading  city  and 
chief  seaport  of  America  ;  a  possession  which  it  was  never  after  in  the 
power  of  the  colonies  even  to  threaten  successfully,  much  less  regain. 

It  struck  instantly  from  the  then  rapidly  dissolving  army  of  Wash 
ington  nearly  three  thousand  effective  men.  By  the  same  blow,  practi 
cally,  Fort  Lee,  on  the  opposite  side  of  the  Hudson,  with  its  guns  and 
most  of  its  stores,  was  taken,  and  New  Jersey  thrown  open  to  the  strong, 
well  appointed,  victorious  troops  of  Howe,  with  nought  to  oppose  them 
but  the  broken,  dispirited,  deserting,  half  clad  regiments  of  Washington, 
dwindled  down  to  less  than  three  thousand  men.1  "  In  ten  days,"  wrote 
Washington  to  his  brother  John  Augustine,  three  days  after  the  capture, 
"  there  will  not  be  above  two  thousand  men,  if  that  number,  of  the  fixed 

1  Washington  to  Lee,  21  Nov.  Force  5th  series,  vol.  iii  pp.  78-9.    Letter  of  Matthew  Tilghman. 
Ibid.  p.  1053. 


established  regiments  on  this  side  of  Hudson's  river  to  oppose  Howe's 
whole  army,  and  very  little  more  on  the  other  to  secure  the  Eastern 
colonies  and  the  important  passes  leading  through  the  Highlands  to 
Albany  and  the  country  about  the  lakes."1  No  wonder  he  exclaims 
in  the  same  letter,  in  the  full  confidence  of  fraternal  love,  "  I  am  wearied 
almost  to  death  with  the  retrogade  motion  of  things,  and  I  solemnly 
protest,  that  a  pecuniary  reward  of  twenty  thousand  pounds  a  year 
would  not  induce  me  to  undergo  what  I  do ;  and  after  all  to  lose  my 
character,  as  it  is  impossible  under  such  a  variety  of  distressing  circum 
stances,  to  conduct  matters  agreeably  to  public  expectation,  or  even  to 
the  expectation  of  those  who  employ  me,  as  they  will  not  make  proper 
allowances  for  the  difficulties  their  own  errors  have  occasioned." 

Whence  and  why  this  disaster  ?  Who  was  responsible  ?  Was  it  the 
commandant  of  the  post,  the  General  in  charge  of  Fort  Lee  with  whom 
that  officer  acted,  or  was  it  the  Commander-in-Chief  himself? 

Perhaps  no  questions  growing  out  of  any  single  event  of  the  Revo 
lution  were  discussed  with  more  vigor  at  the  time,  or  have  given  rise  to 
more  controversy  since,  than  these.  Each  of  the  three  officers,  Wash 
ington,  Greene,  and  Magaw  have  had  their  enemies  and  opposers,  friends 
and  defenders. 

Two  facts,  utterly  foreign  to  the  capture  as  acts  of  war,  or  rather  of 
military  science  and  forecast,  had  much  to  do  with  this  controversy  ; — 
the  bitter  antagonism  to  Washington  in  the  Continental  Congress,  and 
the  intense  antipathy  between  the  officers  and  men  from  New  England 
and  those  from  all  the  other  colonies.  These  facts  are  only  mentioned, 
because  they  should  always  be  borne  in  mind  in  considering  the 
military  affairs  of  the  Revolution,  and  especially  those  of  its  first  two 

The  throwing  of  his  army  into  Westchester  county  at  Throg's  Neck, 
by  Sir  William  Howe  on  the  I2th  of  October,  1776,  forced  Washington 
to  evacuate  New  York  Island,  with  the  fortified  camp  at  Kingsbridge, 
and  to  retreat  to  the  north  along  the  line  of  the  river  Bronx,  to  avoid 
being  outflanked  and  surrounded.  At  the  time  Washington  was  at  the 
Roger  Morris  House — his  well-known  head-quarters — and  the  bulk  of  his 
army  lay  in  its  neighborhood,  while  a  strong  force  held  Kingsbridge  and 
the  adjoining  hills  in  Westchester  county. 

The  northern  part  of  the  island  of  Manhattan  is  a  narrow,  high,  rocky, 
wooded  region  of  singular  natural  beauty  ;  unique  as  a  feature  in  modern 
cities,  and  precisely  such  a  spot  as  in  an  ancient  Greek  city  would  have 

JForce  5th  series,  vol.  iii,  p.  766. 

MOUNT   WASHINGTON   AND    ITS   CAPTURE   NOV.  1 6  1776  .7 

been  chosen  for  its  Acropolis.  Separated  from  the  rest  of  the  island  by  the 
plains  of  Harlem  on  the  south,  and  extending  thence  to  Kingsbridge  on 
the  north,  a  distance  of  about  four  miles,  its  average  width  is  only  about 
three-fourths  of  a  mile.  Bordered  on  the  east  by  the  narrow  winding, 
umbrageous  Harlem,  and  on  the  west  by  the  magnificent  Hudson,  the 
two  united  by  the  historic  inlet  of  Spuyten  Duyvel,  it  rises  from  these 
rivers  in  sudden,  rocky,  forest  clad  precipices,  nearly  a  hundred  feet  in 
height,  which  for  well  nigh  three-fourths  of  its  circumference  are  almost 
inaccessible.  These  natural  buttresses  support  an  irregular  plain,  the 
surface  of  which  rises  toward  the  centre  to  an  eminence  on  the  side 
of  the  Hudson  two  hundred  feet  above  its  waters,  and  to  another  on  the 
side  of  the  Harlem  of  almost  equal  height,  between  which  lies  the  most 
level  part  of  the  entire  region.  This  towards  its  northern  end  sinks 
into  a  narrow  valley  or  gorge,  through  which  runs  the  road  to  Kings- 
bridge.  Besides  the  Kingsbridge,  which  connected  the  island  with  the 
mainland  of  Westchester,  there  was  another  bridge,  a  short  distance 
south  east  of  it,  called  Dyckman's  bridge.  Opposite  these  bridges  the 
rocky  bluffs  recede  to  the  west  for  nearly  a  mile,  leaving  between  them 
and  the  Harlem  river  a  small  plain,  on  which  rise  two  or  three  low  hills. 
At  the  southern  end  of  this  plain  was  a  little  branch  of  the  Harlem  called 
Sherman's  creek,  still  in  existence,  directly  above  and  south  of  which 
rises  the  high  eminence  on  the  Harlem  above-mentioned,  then  termed 
"  Laurel  Hill,"  and  since,  and  now,  "  Fort  George." 

The  highest  eminence  on  the  Hudson,  which  was  southwest  from 
Laurel  Hill,  was  selected  by  Colonel  Rums  Putnam,  in  the  summer  of 
1776,  as  the  site  of  a  large  earthwork  fortification  for  the  defence  of  and 
to  aid  the  obstructions  intended  to  close  the  Hudson  against  the  passage 
of  ships,  which,  after  the  Commander-in-Chief,  was  called  "  Fort  Wash 

The  term  "  Mount  Washington"  was  given  in  1776  to  the  entire 
elevated  region  above  described.  It  is  so-called  in  the  letters  and  docu 
ments  of  that  period,  though  sometimes  styled  "  Harlem  Heights  ;  "  and 
in  the  same  sense  it  is  here  used,  although  in  our  day  the  appellation 
has  become  restricted  to  the  small  part  of  th.e  region  immediately 
adjacent  to  the  old  fortification.  That  fortification — and  that  only — is 
here  called  "  Fort  Washington." 

Directly  beneath  the  eminence  on  which  Fort  Washington  stood,  a 
low  cape,  or  rather  promontory,  called  Jeffrey's  Hook,  throws  itself  out 
into  the  waters  of  the  Hudson,  making  the  river  narrower  there  than  from 
any  other  point  on  the  Manhattan  shore.  Between  this  "  Hook  "  and  the 

8  MOUNT  WASHINGTON    AND    ITS   CAPTURE   NOV.  1 6    1/76 

Jersey  shore  extended  a  line  of  sunken  vessels  and  chevaux-de-frise, 
intended  to  obstruct  the  passage  of  the  river.  On  the  summit  of  the 
Palisades,  opposite  Fort  Washington,  was  erected  about  the  same  time 
another  fortification  to  defend  the  Jersey  end  of  the  obstructions,  called 
"  Fort  Constitution  "  and  subsequently  "  Fort  Lee,"  in  honor  of  General 
Charles  Lee.  This  latter  was  therefore  dependent  on  the  former,  and 
was  of  no  value  without  it.  Both  forts  together  commanded  the  river 
and  the  communication  between  its  two  sides,  or,  in  a  larger  sense,  be 
tween  New  England  and  the  colonies  west  and  south  of  the  Hudson. 

Jutting  out  into  and  rising  above  the  Harlem  plains,  at  the  extreme 
south  eastern  extremity  of  Mount  Washington,  was  a  lofty  and  almost 
perpendicular  promontory,  now  blasted  away,  called  "  The  Point  of 
Rocks."  It  was  surmounted  by  a  strong  battery,  and  commanded  "  the 
King's  Highway,"  or  "  the  Road  to  Kingsbridge,"  from  the  city  of  New 
York,  and  was  the  American  post  nearest  to  the  British  lines. 

The  American  lines  ran  from  the  Point  of  Rocks  westwardly  to  the 
Hudson  river,  along  the  southern  face  of  Mount  Washington,  lower  and 
less  precipitous  there  than  any  where  else,  and  northeastwardly  along 
its  high  southeastern  face  to  the  Harlem  river. 

A  slight  depression  in  the  latter  face,  as  it  approached  the  Harlem, 
afforded  a  passage  for  the  road  to  Kingsbridge  as  it  ascended  from  the 
Harlem  plains,  forming  the  well-known  "  Break  Neck  Hill,"  a  short  dis 
tance  to  the  east  of  which  road  stood  the  house  of  Colonel  Roger  Morris, 
occupied  by  Washington  as  his  headquarters.  A  few  weeks  before, 
Roger  Morris  and  his  fair  wife  had  retired  to  the  Highlands,  little 
dreaming  that  his  old  friend  and  companion  of  "  the  last  war,"  and  his 
wife's  old  admirer,  was  to  become  the  next  master  of  their  beautiful 

East  and  west  of  the  Point  of  Rocks,  in  exposed  places,  the  Americans 
had  thrown  up  light  breast  works  and  facing  the  Pludson  some  small 
batteries,  the  largest  being  upon  Jeffrey's  Hook.  But  their  main  works 
were  at  Mount  Washington  and  south  of  the  Fort — three  distinct  lines 
of  fortifications  running  across  the  island  from  river  to  river. 

The  middle  line  was  located  about  a  third  of  a  mile  south  of  the 
Morris  House ;  a  thoroughly  completed  strong  work,  with  redoubts, 
bastions,  and  curtains, — a  well  made  line  of  intrenchments.  The  ex 
treme  southern  line  was  placed  about  a  third  of  a  mile  further  to  the 
south,  but  it  was  not  so  well  built,  nor  in  as  favorable  a  location  ;  while 
the  northernmost  one,  very  near  the  Morris  House,  and  about  the  same 
distance  to  the  north  of  the  middle  line,  was  vastly  inferior,  and  in  some 
parts  never  wholly  completed. 

MOUNT  WASHINGTON  AND   ITS   CAPTURE   NOV.  1 6    1776  .    9 

Upon  its  north  side  Mount  Washington  had  no  intrenched  lines 
whatever.  On  the  summit  of  Laurel  Hill  was  a  small  battery  and  re- 
•doubt,  and  at  the  northern  brow  of  the  long-  hill,  on  which  Fort  Wash 
ington  stood — above  what  is  now  styled  Inwood — was  another  redoubt 
and  battery  of  three  guns,  to  aid  in  protecting  the  river  obstructions  by 
an  enfilading  fire.  The  round  wooded  hill  on  the  south  side  of  the  en 
trance  to  Spuyten  Duyvel  was  crowned  by  another  small  work  of  a  simi 
lar  character  mounting  two  guns.1  From  this  first  mentioned  battery  and 
hill,  down  and  across  the  gorge  occupied  by  the  Kingsbridge  road  to 
Laurel  Hill,  ran  two  or  three  lines  of  abatis,  or  felled  trees,  hastily  made 
by  the  Americans  after  they  retired  on  the  2d  of  November  from  Kings- 

Fort  Washington  itself  was  a  large  earth  work  fortification  of  five 
bastions,  without  supporting  breastworks,  except  a  single  one  on  its 
north  side.  It  was  erected  in  July,  1776,  by  the  Pennsylvania  battalions 
or  regiments  under  Brig.  Gen.  Thomas  Mifflin  ;  the  fifth  commanded 
by  Colonel  Robert  Magaw,  and  the  third  by  Colonel  John  Shee : 
The  last  named  officer,  in  September,  went  home  on  furlough,  and  never 
again  rejoined  his  regiment,  which  thereafter  was  commanded  by  Lam 
bert  Cadwallader,  its  Lieutenant  Colonel.2  These  regiments  arrived  in 
New  York  at  the  end  of  June,  1776,  full  in  numbers  but  deficient  in 
arms,  the  latter  having  only  300  guns,  and  the  former  but  125' — a  want 
subsequently  remedied.  The  fort  had  been  laid  out  by  Colonel  Rufus 
Putnam,  Engineer-in-Chief,  built  under  his  directions  at  Washington's 
request,  and  was  intended  to  cover  the  communication  with  New 
Jersey  in  connection  with  Fort  Lee,  on  the  summit  of  the  Palisades  on 
the  opposite  or  Jersey  side  of  the  Hudson,  which  was  erected  at  the 
same  time  by  General  Hugh  Mercer  and  the  troops  under  his  command. 
It  had  no  casemates,  barracks  nor  well,  and  when  invested,  con 
tained  but  small  supplies  of  provisions,  or  fuel,  or  stores  of  any  kind 
requisite  to  stand  a  siege  of  any  length.  With  the  exception  of  a 
wooden  magazine  and  some  offices,  it  had  no  interior  construction  and 
was,  in  fact,  simply  a  large,  open  earth  work.4  How  many  guns  it 
mounted  is  not  now  known.  The  British  return  of  ordnance  of  all  sizes 

!Howe's  Dispatch.     Force  5th  series,  vol.  iii,  p.  924. 

2Graydon's  Memoir,  Littell's  ed.,  p.  181.  Cadwallader  was  commissioned  Colonel  of  this 
regiment  by  the  Continental  Congress  on  the  25th  of  October,  1776.  See  Commission  Penn, 
Archives,  vol.  v.,  p.  53. 

3Mifflin's  letter  to  Washington  5th  July  1776.     Force  5th  series,  vol.  i,  p.  27. 

4Graydon,  186. 

10  MOUNT  WASHINGTON  AND   ITS   CAPTURE  NOV.  1 6    1 7/6 

captured  at  Mount  Washington  was  forty-seven/  of  which  probably  much 
less  than  one-half  were  mounted  in  the  fort. 

The  summer  of  1776  was  of  great  heat,  and  these  Pennsylvania 
troops  Avere  drilled  hard,  as  well  as  worked  hard.  About  a  fourth  were 
always  on  the  sick  list.  Excepting  two  days  service  on  Long  Island,  im 
mediately  following  the  battle  of  the  27th  of  August,  and  some  short 
marches  into  Westchester,  just  after  their  return  from  Brooklyn,  they 
saw  no  service  in  the  field  except  upon  Mount  Washington.2 

The  American  army  lay  encamped  on  Mount  Washington  from  the 
beginning  of  September  'till  the  i3th  of  October,  1776,  a  period  of  about 
five  weeks. 

At  the  latter  end  of  September,  Mr.  James  Allen,3  of  Philadelphia, 
second  son  of  Chief  Justice  Allen,  and  Dr  Smith,  the  Provost  of  the 
College  in  that  city,  paid  a  visit  of  curiosity,  merely,  to  the  seat  of  war. 
In  the  manuscript  diary  of  the  former  there  is  an  account  of  his  visit  to 
Mount  Washington  at  this  time.  From  Amboy,  where  he  saw  his  old 
friends  Generals  Dickenson  and  Mercer,  he  went  to  Bergen,  and  lodged 
with  another  friend,  General  Roberdeau,  who  commanded  that  post. 
"  Thence,"  says  the  diary,  "  to  Fort  Constitution,  now  Fort  Lee,  com 
manded  by  my  old  acquaintance,  General  Ewing,  with  whom  I  dined, 
and  same  day  crossed  the  river  to  Head-quarters.  General  Washington 
received  me  with  the  utmost  politeness.  I  lodged  with  him  ;  and  found 
there  Messrs.  Jos.  Reed,  Tilghman,  Grayson,  Moyland,  L.  Cadwallader, 
and  many  others  of  my  acquaintance,  and  was  very  happy  with  them. 
Nothing  happened  while  I  was  there  except  an  attempt  of  our  army  to 
bring  off  grain  from  Harlem,  in  which  they  did  not  succeed,  and  which 
had  well  nigh  brought  on  an  engagement.  Next  day  I  re-crossed  the 
river  to  Fort  Lee,  and  came  through  Hackensack  in  company  with 
Captain  Charles  Craig,  and  thence  through  Morristown  to  Union,  where 
I  found  my  wife  and  child,  and  Mrs.  Lawrence,"4  the  latter  lady  being 
his  wife's  mother. 

Ten  days  before  this  visit,  on  the  i8th  of  August,  says  General  Heath, 
not  a  single  cannon  was  mounted  beyond  Mount  Washington.5  On  the 

1  Force  5th  series,  vol.  iii,  p.  1058. 

2They  were  recruited  in  the  early  part  of  1776,  and  so  well  drilled  in  Philadelphia,  prior  to 
being  sent  to  New  York  at  the  end  of  June,  as  to  receive  mention  from  Washington  himself. 

3James  Allen,  the  second  son  of  Chief  Justice  William  Allen,  of  Pennsylvania,  was  a  prominent 
lawyer  of  Philadelphia  and  a  member  of  Assembly  for  Northampton  county.  He  was  a  brother-in- 
law  to  Governor  John  Penn  and  to  James  de  Lancey,  of  New  York,  the  head  of  that  family,  eldest 
son  of  James  de  Lancey  who  died  Governor  of  New  York  in  1760. 

4MS.  Diary  of  James  Allen. 

6Force  5th  series,  vol.  i,  p.  1030. 


1 9th  William  Duer  was  ordered  by  the  New  York  Convention  to  consult 
with  Washington  on  the  subject  of  aiding-  him  to  obstruct  the  river  op 
posite  Mount  Washington.1 

On  the  third  of  September  Washington  ordered  Mercer  to  lay  out 
and  build  additional  works  at  Fort  Lee.2  The  very  same  day  Colonel 
Rufus  Putnam  stated  in  his  report  to  the  Commander-inChief  of  that 
date,  that  with  both  sides  of  the  river  fortified  as  he  recommended,  and 
the  forts  and  batteries  well  filled  with  guns  and  ammunition,  and  the 
river  obstructed  by  sunken  vessels,  if  the  enemy  "  attempted  to  force 
this  post,  1  think  they  must  be  beaten."3 

On  this  same  third  of  September  also,  it  strangely  happened  General 
Nathaniel  Greene  wrote  Washington  that  remarkable  private  letter  urging 
in  the  strongest  terms  the  burning  of  New  York  and  its  suburbs,  and 
the  evacuation  of  the  island,  closing  it  with  this  request — "  should  your 
excellency  agree  with  me  in  the  first  two  points,  that  a  speedy  and  gen 
eral  retreat  is  necessary,  and  also,  that  the  city  and  suburbs  should  be 
burned,  I  would  advise  to  call  a  general  council  on  that  question,  and 
take  every  general  officer's  opinion  upon  it."4 

Washington,  singularly  enough,  had  already  submitted  the  question 
of  destroying  New  York  to  Congress  the  very  day  before  ;5  and  Han 
cock,  also  on  this  same  3d  day  of  September,  replied  to  him,  that  Con 
gress,  on  considering  his  letter  of  the  2d,  "  came  to  a  resolution  in  a  com 
mittee  of  the  whole  house  that  no  damage  should  be  done  to  the  city  of 
New  York."0 

The  Commander-in-Chief  agreeing  to  Greene's  suggestions,  did  call 
a  council  of  general  officers  on  the  7th,  and  they  decided  to  defend  and 
not  to  destroy  and  evacuate  the  city,  by  a  majority  vote.  The  minority 
were  for  a  total  and  immediate  removal  from  the  city,  "  nor  were  some 
of  the  majority,"  says  Washington  to  Hancock,  "  a  little  influenced  in 

1  Journals  N.  Y.  Prov.  Cong.,  vol.  i,  p.  579. 

2Force  5th  series,  vol.  ii,  p.  140. 

3Ibid.  139.  The  obstructions  proved  futile.  On  September  13  some  of  the  chevaux  de  frise 
having  been  floating  with  the  tide  some  days  before,  the  N.  Y.  Committee  of  Safety  wrote  George 
Clinton  on  the  subject,  and  on  the  1 7th  ordered  Capt.  Thomas  Greenhill  to  make  a  survey  of  the 
landings,  etc.  of  Mount  Washington  and  report,  and  on  the  2ist  ordered  six  vessels  purchased  by 
Greenhill  and  delivered  to  Capt.  Cook  at  Mount  Washington  to  be  sunk.  On  October  3d,  Cook 
was  cutting  timber  for  the  chevaux  de  frise  up  the  river,  and  was  written  for  to  sink  the  vessels,  2 
sloops,  2  brigs,  and  2  large  ships,  which  got  there  about  the  25th  of  Septembei*.  Journals  Prov. 
Cong.,  pp.  624,  628,  639,  663. 

4Force  5th  series,  vol.  ii,  pp.  182-3. 

5Force  5th  series,  vol.  ii,  pp.  182-3. 

"Ibid.  p.  135. 

12  MOUNT  WASHINGTON  AND   ITS   CAPTURE   NOV.  1  6    1776 

their  opinions,  to  whom  the  determination  of  Congress  was  known, 
against  an  evacuation  totally,  as  they  were  led  to  suspect  Congress 
wished  it  to  be  maintained  at  every  hazard."1 

This  decision  did  not  suit  Greene,  nor  apparently  Washington,  and 
on  the  nth  of  September  the  former,  with  six  Brigadiers,  presented  a 
written  petition  signed  by  them  all,  to  the  latter,  requesting  him  to  call 
another  council  of  war  to  re-consider  the  question.  Washington  assented,  and 
called  it  for  the  next  day,  the  I2th,  at  McDougall's  quarters  ;  when  ten 
generals,  Beall,  Scott,  Fellows,  Wadsworth,  Nixon,  McDougall,  Parsons, 
Mifflin,  Greene,  and  Putnam,  voted  to  re-consider  and  evacuate  ;  and 
three,  Spencer,  George  Clinton,  and  Heath,  to  adhere  and  defend.  The 
record  of  this  council  thus  closes  :  "  It  was  considered  what  number  of 
men  are  necessary  to  be  left  for  the  defence  of  Mount  Washington  and  its 
dependencies  —  agreed,  that  it  be  eight  thousand."2 

This  is  the  first  official  mention  that  Mount  Washington  was  to  be 
defended,  and  it  is  noteworthy  that  so  large  a  number  of  men  was  then 
deemed  necessary  for  that  object.  From  this  summary  of  the  official 
action  of  Congress,  Washington  and  the  Council  of  War,  we  learn  why 
Mount  Washington  was  occupied  and  held. 

Pursuant  to  the  decision  of  the  Council  of  War  just  mentioned,  the 
evacuation  of  the  island  began  on  the  I3th,  continued  on  the  I4th, 
and  was  interrupted  on  the  I5th  of  September,  1776,  by  the  landing 
at  Kip's  Bay  and  the  taking  of  the  city  by  the  British.  After 
the  action  of  Harlem  Plains  the  succeeding  day,  the  two  armies  lay 
encamped  opposite  each  other,  separated  by  those  plains.  The  British 
lines  extended  from  Horen's  Hook,  on  the  East  river  at  poth  street,  along 
the  heights  at  McGowan's  Pass  (the  north  end  of  the  Central  Park)  to 
the  end  of  the  high  ground  on  the  south  side  of  the  western  end  of  the 
Harlem  plains  at  I25th  street,  while  the  American  lines  occupied  the  whole 
of  the  southern  and  eastern  side  of  Mount  Washington,  facing  the 
northern  side  of  those  plains,  from  the  Harlem  to  the  Hudson. 

Such  were  the  positions  of  the  two  armies  when  Howe  suddenly,  on 
the  1  2th  of  October,  in  a  dense  fog,  threw  all  his  army  upon  Throg's  Neck, 
nine  miles  up  Long  Island  Sound,  with  the  exception  of  a  force  under 
Lord  Percy  sufficient  to  hold  the  British  lines  just  mentioned,  and  the  city 
of  New  York. 

Washington,  as  before  stated,  was  at  the  Morris  House.  Late  in  the 
day  an  express  from  General  Heath  advised  him  of  the  landin,  the  news 

5th  series,  vol.  ii,  p.  237. 
*Ibid.  325,  328,  and  330. 

MOUNT  WASHINGTON  AND   ITS   CAPTURE   NOV.     1 6    1 776  13 

of  which  had  reached  the  post  of  that  officer  at  Kingsbridge.  He  in 
stantly  ordered  a  detachment,  made  up  of  his  best  troops,  to  Westchester 
to  oppose  them.1  Among  these  was  the  regiment  of  Prescott  of  Pep- 
perell,  the  hero  of  Bunker  Hill,  to  whose  lot  it  fell  singularly  enough,  for 
the  second  time,  to  aid  mainly  in  forcing  Howe  from  a  peninsula,  by  de 
fending  with  success  the  road  and  Mill  Dam  leading  from  Throg's  Neck 
to  Westchester  village. 

So  unexpected  was  this  movement  of  Howe,  that  the  very  day  before 
it  took  place — the  nth — General  Greene,  from  Fort  Lee,  wrote  Gover- 
ner  Cooke,  of  Rhode  Island,  "  our  army  are  so  strongly  fortified  and  so 
much  out  of  the  command  of  the  shipping,  we  have  little  more  to  fear 
this  campaign."2  General  Greene  however,  the  same  day,  as  soon  as  he 
heard  of  it,  at  5  o'clock  P.  M.  of  the  I2th,  wrote  Washington  of  the  fact, 
and  offered  if  he  desired  them  three  brigades  and  his  own  services."3 

The  1 3th  Washington  spent  chiefly  in  a  personal  reconnoissance  of 
southern  Westchester.  The  next  day,  the  I4th,  he  formed  his  army  into 
four  divisions,  under  Major  Generals  Lee,  Heath,  Sullivan,  and  Lincoln, 
which  the  following  day,  the  I5th,  moved  into  Westchester  county.  The 
same  day,  the  I4th,  he  formed  two  other  divisions  to  remain  on  the  island 
under  Major  Generals  Spencer  and  Putnam  ;  the  former  to  take  charge 
of  all  Mount  Washington  south  of  the  northernmost  of  the  fortified  lines 
from  river  to  river,  near  head-quarters,  and  the  latter  the  rest  of  it  on  the 
north  of  that  line.  General  Putnam,  says  the  order,  "  will  also  attend 
particularly  to  the  works  about  Mount  Washington  and  to  the  obstruc 
tions  in  the  river,  which  should  be  increased  as  fast  as  possible."4 

General  Lee  had  arrived  from  the  south  the  day  of  his  appointment, 
and  after  making  a  brief  stop  at  the  fort  which  bears  his  name,  crossed 
the  river  to  Mount  Washington,  stopping  long  enough,  however,  to  write 
this  short  note  to  General  Gates,  with  his  views  ol  things  as  he  found 
them  :  "  I  Avrite  this  scroll  in  a  hurry.  .  Colonel  Ward  will  describe  the 
position  of  our  army,  which  in  my  own  breast  I  do  not  approve — inter  nos 
the  Congress  seem  to  stumble  at  every  step.  I  do  not  mean  one  or  two 
of  the  cattle,  but  the  whole  stable.  I  have  been  very  free  in  delivering 
my  opinion  to  'em.  In  my  opinion,  General  Washington  is  much  to 
blame  for  not  menancing  'em  with  resignation  unless  they  refrain  from 
unhinging  the  army  by  their  absurd  interference."5 

'Force  5th  series,  vol.  ii,  pp.  1014  and  1025. 
'2Force  5th  series,  vol.  ii,  p.  997. 
8Ibid.  p.  1015. 
4General  orders  Oct.  14. 
5Lee  papers,  vol.  ii,  p.  261. 

14  MOUNT   WASHINGTON  AND   ITS  CAPTURE  NOV.  1 6    1/76 

Lee  was  outspoken  in  condemnation  of  the  policy  of  leaving-  and 
holding  a  garrison  in  Fort  Washington,  but  he  and  those  who  thought 
with  him  were  overruled  in  the  council  of  war,  held  on  the  i6th  at  his 
own  head-quarters  in  Westchester.  Washington  and  all  his  Major  Gen 
erals  and  Brigadiers  were  present  to  the  number  of  sixteen,  except 
Greene.  The  command  of  the  latter  being  in  New  Jersey 'was  the  prob 
able  cause  of  his  absence.  At  all  events  he  was  not  there. 

This  council  agreed  that  "Fort  Washington  be  retained  as  long  as  possi 
ble."  The  record  gives  no  votes  but  simply  the  result.  It  is,  therefore, 
not  officially  known  who  was  on  one  side  and  who  on  the  other.1  And 
here  a  most  important  point  requires  attention,  and  that  is  the  limited 
extent,  at  this  time,  of  Washington's  powers  as  Commander-in-Chief, 
He  did  not  have,  nor  exercise,  the  independent  "  one  man  power," 
which  by  all  military  rules  belongs  to  that  command. 

He  could  not  overrule  the  council  of  war  if  he  saw  fit,  and  act  on  his 
own  independent  judgment,  as  Commanders-in-Chief  usually  do.  Re 
ceiving  his  appointment  from  Congress  the  year  previous,  in  virtue,  as 
he  himself  has  told  us,  of  "  a  political  necessity,"  that  body  was  un 
willing  to  vest  in  him  the  power  referred  to,  and  he  was  thus  compelled 
to  carry  out  the  decisions  of  his  council  of  war,  no  matter  whether  he 
individually  did,  or  did  not,  approve  them.  Not  until  Congress  at  the 
very  end  of  December,  1776,  when  Cornwallis  was  overrunning  New 
Jersey,  on  the  eve  of  their  flight  to  Baltimore,  and  in  fear  of  their  own 
existence,  vested  in  him  the  powers  of  a  dictator,  did  he  possess  the 
full  perogatives  of  a  Commander-in-Chief.  From  the  hour  when  he 
drew  his  sword  under  the  great  elm  at  Cambridge  as  leader  of  the  armies 
of  America,  till  that  action  of  Congress  he  was,  in  all  important  steps, 
subject  to  the  will  and  the  decision  of  a  majority  of  his  own  general 
officers.  This  fact  must  especially  be  borne  in  mind  in  the  matter  of 
Mount  Washington. 

By  the  2oth  of  October  all  the  troops  left  on  the  island  of  New  York 
under  Spencer  and  Putnam  had  been  withdrawn,  except  the  regiments 
intended  to  garrison  Mount  Washington.2  These  were  Magaw's  fifth 
and  Cadwallader's  third  Pennsylvania  battalions  before  mentioned. 

Putnam,  before  leaving,  had  requested  of  Greene  a  re-inforcement 
from  Fort  Lee.  The  latter  sent  him,  as  he  tells  Washington  in  a  letter 
of  the  24th,  between  200  and  300  of  Durkie's  regiment,  and  also  sufficient 

'Force  5th  series,  vol.  ii,  p.  1117. 

'Harrison  to  Congress.     Force  5th  series,  vol.  ii,  p.  1137. 

MOUNT   WASHINGTON   AND    ITS   CAPTURE   NOV.    1 6    1776  15 

provisions  for  the  garrison.1  Harrison,  however,  writing  for  Washington 
the  same  day,  from  White  Plains,  tells  Hancock  that  there  "are  about 
1400  men  at  Mount  Washington  and  600  at  Kingsbridge."2  But  Colonel 
Lasher,  the  officer  in  command  at  the  latter  post,  wrote  General  Heath 
on  the  26th  that  he  only  had  400  men  and  6  artillery  men.3  On  the  27th 
Lasher  had  orders  from  Heath  to  quit  the  post,  burn  the  barracks,  and 
join  the  army  at  White  Plains,  and  either  do  this  himself,  or  communi 
cate  with  Magaw,  as  he  pleased.  He  obeyed  ard  executed  the  orders 

The  same  day,  which  was  Sunday,  an  attack  was  made  by  Lord 
Percy  on  Mount  Washington  by  land,  at  the  same  time  that  two  men-of- 
war  attempted  to  pass  it  and  go  up  the  river.  The  latter  were  severely 
cut  up  by  Magaw's  artillery,  and  one  of  them,  badly  crippled,  had  to  re 
tire.5  The  British  troops  moved  down  from  their  lines  at  McGowan's 
Pass  to  Harlem  Plains  and  began  a  fire  with  field  pieces,  which  the 
Americans  returned  from  their  fortified  lines  and  batteries.  It  was  a 
mere  artillery  duel,  had  no  effect,  and  was  apparently  intended  as  a  feint.0 
The  cannonade  was  heard  at  White  Plains.7  This  affair  was  probably 
one  great  cause  of  Greene's  confidence  in  Fort  Washington,  and  of  his 
desire  a  fortnight  later  to  hold  it.  He  was  present  in  the  fort,  and  with 
Magaw,  during  the  firing  on  the  ships.  The  whole  contest  was  over  by  three 
o'clock  in  the  afternoon,  when  he  returned  to  Fort  Lee  and  wrote  an  ac 
count  of  it  to  General  MifBin,8  and  the  next  day  sent  another  to  the 
President  of  Congress.  "  From  the  Sunday  affair,"  he  wrote  Washing 
ton  on  the  29th,  "  1  am  more  fully  convinced  that  we  can  prevent  any 
ships  from  stopping  the  communication."9 

Two  days  afterwards,  Greene  asked  Washington's  opinion  as  to  hold 
ing,  not  the  fort  only,  but  all  Mount  Washington,  in  these  words :  "  I 
should  be  glad  to  know  your  excellency's  mind  about  holding  all  the 
ground  from  the  Kingsbridge  to  the  lower  lines.  If  we  attempt  to  hold 
the  ground,  the  garrison  must  still  be  re-inforced,  but  if  the  garrison 
is  to  draw  into  Mount  (Fort)  Washington,  and  only  keep  that,  the  num- 

'Force  5th  series  vol.  ii,   pp.  1202,  1203,  1221. 
2Ibid.  1239^ 
3Ibid.  1263. 
4Ibid.  vol.  ii,  p.  1264. 
5Ibid.  vol.  ii,  pp.  1263,  1265. 
6Ibid.  1266. 

7MS.  Letter  of  General  Silliman  to  his  wife. 
8Force  5th  series,  1263,  1269. 
.  1281. 

1 6  MOUNT  WASHINGTON   AND   ITS   CAPTURE  NOV.  1 6    1776 

her  of  the  troops  on  the  island  is  too  large.  *  *  *  I  shall  re-inforce 
Colonel  Magaw  with  Colonel  Rawling's  regiment,  until  I  hear  from 
your  excellency  respecting  the  matter.  The  motions  of  the  grand  army 
will  best  determine  the  propriety  of  endeavoring  to  hold  all  the  ground 
from  Kingsbridge  to  the  lower  lines.  I  shall  be  as  much  on  the  island 
of  York  as  possible,  so  as  not  to  neglect  the  duties  of  my  own  depart 
ment."1  What  Washington's  answer  was  we  shall  hereafter  see.  He 
was  then  at  White  Plains,  expecting  an  immediate  attack  by  Howe's  whole 

That  high  and  beautiful  region  of  south  eastern  Westchester,  from 
Pell's  Hill  on  the  west  to  Heathcote  Hill  on  the  east,  never  glowed 
with  more  brilliant  autumnal  hues  than  on  the  28th  of  October  1776. 
The  white  tents  of  the  Hessians  gleamed  brightly  in  the  morning  sun, 
amid  the  glades  and  slopes  of  those  fair  hills  which,  rising  fronrthe  shores 
of  Long  Island  Sound,  form  the  coast  line  of  the  old  Manors  of  Pelham 
and  of  Scarsdale.  Martial  music  woke  the  echoes  of  the  woods,  and  its 
sounds  were  borne  on  the  soft  autumn  breeze  over  the  blue  waters  of 
the  Sound,  far  toward  the  distant  hills  of  Long  Island.  The  stirring 
scenes  of  camp  life,  companies  drilling,  groups  of  officers,  prancing 
horses,  busy  adjutants  passing  to  and  fro,  and  a  few  brilliant  young  aids 
gathered  under  the  over-hanging  porch  of  a  quaint  old  stone  house  with 
low .  walls  and  a  high  roof,  the  flag  above  which  marked  it  as  head 
quarters,  formed  a  picture  that  had  never  before  been  seen  by  the  de 
scendants  of  the  Huguenot  exiles  who  then  dwelt  on  those  lovely  shores. 
They  beheld  with  singular  interest  the  marked  features,  dark,  striking 
uniforms  and  strange  arms  of  the  Germans.  Some  of  the  older, 
perhaps,  as  they  heard  the  guttural  tones  of  the  strangers,  so  different 
from  their  own  musical  tongue,  recalled  the  days,  a  century  before,  when 
their  own  grandfathers,  under  the  golden  lilies  of  Louis  Quartorze,  had 
aided  in  the  conquest  of  Alsace  and  Lothringen  from  the  very  people 
whose  grandchildren  stood  before  them. 

Arriving  in  New  York  harbor  a  week  before,  this  second  Hessian 
contingent  had  been  transferred  to  boats  and  sloops,  and  landed  directly 
at  New  Rochelle,  where  they  had  since  been  recovering  from  the  effects 
of  their  long  sea  voyage.  They  were  six  regiments  from  Hesse  Cassel, 
and  one  from  Waldeck,  all  soldiers  trained  in  the  tactics  of  the  great 

The  obloquy  which  American  historians  have  naturally,  perhaps, 
cast  upon  "  the  Hessians,"  as  these  Germans  auxiliaries  were,  and  still 

'Force  5th  Series,  1294. 


are,  generically  styled,  has  deceived  us  much  as  to  their  real  character. 
The  men  were  the  same  people  precisely  as  the  1 50,000  Germans  whom 
we  now  find  in  this  city  of  New  York — such  orderly,  thriving  citizens, 
and  who  have  made  New  York  the  third  or  fourth  German  city,  for 
population,  in  the  world.  They  were  drawn,  as  is  our  German  popula 
tion  now,  to  use  an  Americanism,  from  the  "  masses  "  of  the  fatherland. 

Their  officers,  however,  were  of  an  entirely  different  class,  and  one 
of  which  we  have  few,  or  none,  here  now.  They  were  all  noblemen. 
None  but  nobles  could  hold  commissions  under  any  German  sovereign 
then,  any  more  than  they  can  now.  The  military  services  of  Germany 
and  Austria  are  the  most  aristocratic  in  Europe  in  1876,  as  they  were  in 
1776.  As  far  as  birth  was  concerned,  the  Hessian  officers  as  a  whole  in 
Howe's  army  were  superior  to  the  English  officers  as  a  whole.  A  rich 
middle  class  Englishman  could  buy  a  commission  for  a  son,  and  it  was 
often  done,  by  favor  of  the  Horse  Guards,  for  the  express  purpose  of 
making  the  youth  "  a  gentleman."  But  in  the  German  services  such  a 
proceeding  was  not  tolerated.  The  youth  must  possess  the  aristocratic 
prefix  of  "  von,"  or  "  de,"  or  he  could  not  aspire  to  a  commission  under 
the  sign  manual  of  his  sovereign,  and  those  sovereigns  exceeded  twenty 
in  number.  The  Hessian  officers  in  America  were  polite,  courteous, 
well-bred  gentlemen,  educated  soldiers,  and  in  the  social  circles  of  the 
time  great  favorites.  As  military  men  they  were  the  best  in  Europe  at 
that  period.  And  of  this  we  can  have  no  stronger  proof  than  the  fact 
that  to  one  of  these  very  "  Hessian,"  or  "  German"  soldiers  did  the 
continental  army  owe  all  the  tactics  and  discipline  it  ever  possessed- 
Baron  de  Steuben. 

The  victorious  guns  of  Howe  had  hardly  ceased  on  Chatterton  Hill, 
ere  he  dispatched  an  order  to  Lieutenant-General  Baron  von  Knyphau- 
sen,  the  commander  of  the  Hessians,  to  move  from  New  Rochelle  toward 
Kingsbridge.  Leaving  the  Waldeck  regiment  as  a  guard,  von  Knyp- 
hausen  marched  with  the  rest  of  his  command  the  next  day,  took  post  at 
Mile  square,  and  on  the  2d  of  November  encamped  upon  New  York 
island  at  Kingsbridge — the  Americans  retiring  to  Fort  Washington  at 
his  approach.1 

Why  Howe  did  not  attack  Washington  at  White  Plains  after  the 
brigades  from  Percy  joined  hirr^,  neither  he,  nor  any  one  else,  has  ever 
satisfactorily  explained.  After  his  return  to  England,  he  told  the  com 
mittee  of  Parliament;  which  investigated  his  conduct  that  he  had  in 
tended  an  attack  on  Washington's  right,,  which  was,  opposite  to  the 

Clowe's  Dispatch,  3Oth  Nov.     Force  5th  series,  vol.  iii,  p..  925.. 


Hessians  under  de  Heister,  but  that  he  had  "  political  reasons,  and  no 
other,  for  declining  to  explain  why  that  assault  was  not  made."* 

He  retired  from  White  Plains  very  suddenly  in  the  night  of  the  5th 
of  November,  1776,  and  his  army  had  been  moving  some  time  on  the 
road  toward  Dobb's  Ferry  before  the  fact  was  discovered  by  the  Ameri 
cans.  "  The  design  of  this  manoeuvre  is  a  matter  of  much  conjecture 
and  speculation,  and  cannot  be  accounted  for  with  any  degree  of  cer 
tainty/'  wrote  Washington  to  Hancock  on  the  6th,  and  he  called  the  same 
day  a  council  of  war,  which  unanimously  agreed  immediately  to  throw  a 
body  of  troops  into  Jersey,  and  station  3,000  men  at  Peekskill  to  guard 
the  Highlands.  This  was  a  perfectly  natural  conclusion.  "  Howe  has  but 
two  moves  more,  in  which  we  shall  checkmate  him,"  wrote  Charles  Lee, 
but  without  saying  what  they  were.2 

One  was  evidently  to  New  Jersey,  and  the  other  to  Mount  Washing 
ton.  Why  did  Howe  choose  the  latter?  That  he  intended  originally 
to  throw  his  army  into  Jersey  from  Dobb's  Ferry  and  march  for  Phila 
delphia,  leaving  Washington  to  follow  him  as  best  he  might — first,  how 
ever,  detaching  and  leaving  behind  a  sufficient  force  to  hold  Westchester, 
and  to  keep  in  check,  or  invest,  Mount  Washington — is  most  probable. 
This  would  explain  his  order  to  von  Knyphausen  on  the  28th,  and  the 
subsequent  order  of  the  3d  to  Grant,  to  march  the  next  day,  the  4th,  with 
the  sixth  brigade  to  de  Lancey's  Mill  on  the  Bronx  at  West  Farms,  send 
the  fourth  brigade  to  Mile  square  in  the  same  town,  and  the  Waldeck 
regiment  from  New  Rochelle  to  a  bridge,  three  miles  above  de  Lancey's 
Mills,  on  the  same  stream.3 

Washington  and  his  council  of  war  evidently  thought  he  would  do  so, 
hence  their  unanimous  vote  to  throw  an  army  into  Jersey  and  to  secure 
Peekskill.  The  record  of  that  council  shows  that  neither  "  Mount  Wash 
ington"  nor  "  Fort  Washington"  were  even  mentioned.4  A  striking 
fact,  when  we  know  from  a  letter  of  the  Commander-in-Chief  himself, 
written  the  day  the  council  met,  that  all  "  communication  with  Mount 
Washington  has  now  been  cut  off  for  two  weeks."5  Reed,  on  the  same  6th 
of  November,  says :  "  Opinions  here  are  various  ;  some  think  they  are  fall 
ing  down  on  Mount  Washington  ;  others  that  they  mean  to  take  shipping 
up  North  river  and  fall  upon  our  rear ;  others,  and  a  great  majority,  think 
that  finding  our  army  too  strongly  posted  they  have  changed  their  whole 

1  Howe's  Narrative,  p.  7. 

2Letter  of  Wm.  Whipple  to  John  Langdon.     Force  5th  series,  vol.  iii,  p.  555. 

3Howe's  Dispatch. 

4Force  5th  series,  vol.  iii,  p.  543. 

5To  Pennsylvania  Commissioners,  Nov.  6,  1776.     Force  5th  series,  vol.  iii,  p.  546. 


plan,  and  are  bending  southward,  intending  to  penetrate  the  Jerseys, 
and  so  move  on  to  Philadelphia." 

Howe  suddenly  and  certainly  did  "  change  his  whole  plan."  He 
himself  said  his  reason  for  not  attacking  Washington  at  White  Plains 
was  a  political  one,  but  refused  to  divulge  it.  His  successes  in  the  cam 
paign  so  far  had  not  been  decided  ones.  He  had  not  been  able  to  crush 
the  rebellion  in  a  single  great  battle  as  he  hoped,  and  he  found  he  must 
ask  the  Ministry  in  England  for  more  men  and  materials.  Though  they 
were  not  his  political  friends,  still,  they  had  given  him  his  command,  and 
must  be  placed  in  a  position  to  do  so  with  ease  and  honor.  And  an 
occurrence  utterly  unexpected  had  just  transpired  by  which  he  could 
not  only  do  this,  but  at  the  same  time  win  great  applause  for  himself,  and 
strike  a  blow  deadly,  if  not  fatal,  to  the  rebellion,  and  that  too  with  no  risk 
of  failure  and  little  of  loss. 

He  had  good  cause  "  to  change  his  whole  plan,"  as  Reed  expressed  it. 
And  that  cause  was  the  treason  of  a  commissioned  officer  of  the  A  merican  army. 
Four  years  before  Arnold's  attempt  to  betray  West  Point,  a  similar  but 
more  successful  traitor  betrayed  Mount  Washington.  On  the  2d  of 
November,  1776,  the  Adjutant  of  Magaw,  the  commandant  of  tlie  fortress, 
passed,  undiscovered,  into  the  BritisJi  camp  of  Lord  Percy,  carrying  the 
plans  of  Fort  Washington,  and  full  information  as  to  its  works  and  garrison, 
and  placed  them  in  the  hands  of  that  officer. 

It  was  Percy's  duty,  of  course,  instantly  to  send  the  plans  and  the 
Adjutant  to  Sir  William  Howe,  then  at  White  Plains.  As  he  could  only 
do  this  by  way  of  the  East  river,  or  the  North  river,  it  probably  was  the 
evening  of  the  3d  of  November  before  Howe  received  them,  and  they 
may  possibly  not  have  reached  him  till  the  4th.  The  British  commander 
now  saw  not  only  how  he  could  certainly  capture  Mount  Washington, 
but  how  he  could  do  it  without  much  loss,  send  the  ministry  in  England 
a  glowing  account  of  forts,  guns,  and  men  taken,  deprive  Washington  of 
a  large  force  of  his  best  troops,  seize  the  communication  between  New 
York  and  Westchester,  and  destroy  that  between  the  eastern  and  southern 
colonies  across  the  Hudson,  on  which  both  had  so  long  relied  ;  he 
acted  accordingly. 

Alexander  Graydon,  a  captain  in  Cadwallader's  regiment,  who  was 
taken  at  Mount  Washington,  says,  in  his  striking  "  Memoirs  of 
his  own  Times,"  given  to  the  world  in  1811,  "Howe  must  have  had  a 
perfect  knowledge  of  the  ground  we  occupied.  This  he  might  have 
acquired  from  hundreds. in  New  York,  but  he  might  have  been  more 
thoroughly  informed  of  everything  desirable  to  be  known  from  an  officer 

20  MOUNT   WASHINGTON   AND    ITS   CAPTURE   NOV.  1 6    1 776 

of  Magaw's  Battalion,  who  was  intelligent  in  points  of  duty,  and  deserted 
to  the  enemy  about  a  week  before  the  assault.''  The  same  thing  is  inti 
mated  in  one  or  two  of  the  German  accounts  of  the  capture  of  Mount 

What  these  writers  thought  a  possibility,  is  now  an  absolute  certainty. 
The  evidence  too,  is  of  the  most  conclusive  character — that  of  the  traitor 
himself — in  a  letter  of  his  own,  over  his  own  signature,  stating  the  treason 
in  plain,  undeniable  terms. 

Sixteen  years  after  the  fall  of  Fort  Washington,  in  order  to  obtain  a 
small  amount  due  him  by  the  British  government,  he  wrote  the  following 
letter,  the  contents  of  which  were  to  be  used  in  obtaing  payment  of  his 
claim  from  certain  British  officials  in  Canada.  It  is  addressed  to  the 
Rev.  Dr  Peters,  a  clergyman  of  the  Church  of  England,  originally  of 
Hebron,  and  the  author  of  the  History  of  Connecticut.  In  Dr  Peters' 
possession,  and  that  of  two  gentlemen  of  this  city,  father  and  son,  the 
elder  of  whom  married  a  ward  of  Dr  Peters,  who  resided  with  him,  and 
died  in  his  house,  both  well-known  members  of  the  bar,  this  letter  has 
remained  until  recently  placed  in  the  hands  of  the  author  of  this  article. 
Its  authenticity  is  therefore  beyond  a  cavil. 

It  is  given,  with  its  errors  of  grammar  and  style,  precisely  as  written. 
REV.  SIR  : 

Permit  me  to  Trouble  you  with  a  Short  recital  of  my  Services  in  America  which  I  Presume 
may  be  deem'd  among  the  most  Singular  of  any  that  will  go  to  Upper  Canada.  On  the  2d  of  Nov'r 
1776  I  Sacrificed  all  I  was  Worth  in  the  World  to  the  Service  of  my  King  £  Country  and  joined 
the  then  Lord  Percy,  brought  in  with  [me]  the  Plans  of  Fort  Washington,  by  which  Plans  that 
Fortress  was  taken  by  his  Majesty's  Troops  the  16  instant,  Together  with  2700  Prisoners  and  Stores 
&  Ammunition  to  the  amount  of  1800  Pound.  At  the  same  time,  I  may  with  Justice  affirm,  from 
my  Knowledge  of  the  Works,  I  saved  the  Lives  of  many  of  His  Majestys  Subjects, — these  Sir  are 
facts  well-known  to  every  General  Officer  which  was  there — and  I  may  with  Truth  Declare  from 
that  time  I  Studied  the  Interest  of  my  Country  and  neglected  my  own — or  in  the  Language  of 
Cardinal  Woolsey  had  I  have  Served  my  God  as  I  have  done  my  King  he  would  not  Thus  have 
Forsaken  me. 

The  following  is  a  Just  Account  due  me  from  Government  which  I  have  never  been  able  to 
bring  forward  for  want  of  Sr.  William  Erskine  who  once  when  in  Town  assured  me  he'd  Look  into 
it  but  have  never  done  it  otherways  I  should  not  have  been  in  Debt. 

This  Sir  though  it  may  not  be  in  your  Power  to  Get  me  may  Justify  my  being  so  much  in  Debt, 
&  in  Expectation  of  this  Acct  being  Paid,  together  with  another  Dividend,  from  the  Express  words 
of  the  Act  where  it  Says  all  under  Ten  Thousand  pound  Should  be  Paid  without  Deduction,  I 
having  received  only  £464  which  I  Justified  before  the  Commissioners  : 

Due  for  Baw,  Batt,  £  Forrage          -  -  -   ;£110-  7-O 

For  Engaging  Guides  Getting  Intelligence,  &c.      -  -         45-  9-7 

For  doing  duty  y?  Commissary  of  Prisoners  at  Philadelphia  Paying  Clerks  Stationery,  &c.         16.13.8 


MOUNT   WASHINGTON   AND    ITS   CAPTURE   NOV.    1 6    1 776  2I 

The  last  Two  Articles  was  Cash  Paid  out  of  my  Pocket  which  was  Promised  to  be  Refunded 
by  Sirs  Wm  Howe  and  Erskine. 

I  most  Humbly  Beg  Pardon  for  the  Length  of  this  Letter  &  Shall  Conclude  without  making 
Some  Masonac  Remarks  as  at  first  Intended,  and  Remain 

,  Rev'd  Sir  with  Dutiful  Respect 

Tany  i6th  1  Your  most  obedient  and  Most  Hum!  Serv't. 

1792.      )  WILLIAM  DEMONT. 

P.S.  the  Inclosed  is  a  true  account  of  my  Debts  taken  from  the  Different  Bills  received. 

Such  was  the  treason  of  William  Demont.  Originally  entering  Ma- 
gaw's  battalion  in  Philadelphia  as  an  ensign  by  the  appointment  of  the 
Pennsylvania  Council  of  Safety,  he  was  by  the  same  body  appointed  its 
Adjutant  on  the  2gth  of  February,  1776,  and  went  with  it  to  New  York 
at  the  end  of  June  in  that  year.  This  position  gave  him  Magaw's  confi 
dence,  and  when,  on  Putnam's  departure  to  join  Washington's  army, 
that  officer  was  left  in  command  of  Mount  Washington,  it  also  gave  him 
the  fullest  information  of  the  post,  and  of  every  thing  that  was  done  or 
intended  to  be  done  in  relation  to  it.  What  the  two  words  Baiu,  Batt, 
evidently  abbreviations  in  the  first  line  of  the  account  mean  is  not  known  ; 
they  are  given  as  written. 

Graydon  mistakes  both  the  time  of  his  desertion  and  his  name.  He 
left  a  fortnight  before  the  capture,  and  not  a  week.  He  gives  the  name 
as  "Dement"  and  so  it  also  appears  in  the  printed  proceedings  of 
the  Pennsylvania  Committee  of  Safety,  and  in  the  Army  Returns.  But, 
if  this  is  not  a  printer's  error,  he  subsequently  changed  the  last  vowel, 
for  he  writes  it  himself,  unmistakably,  "  Dcmont"  Of  his  subsequent 
career  little  is  known,  except  that  during  the  British  occupation  of  Phil 
adelphia  he  acted  as  a  Commissary  of  prisoners.  From  that  time  until 
he  appears  in  London  in  1792,  Avriting  the  above  letter,  nothing  has  been 
learned  of  him,  nor  has  it  been  possible  as  yet  to  trace  him  after  that 
date.  Nor  yet  whether  he  obtained  his  claim.  Probably  he  could 
say  : — 

"  It  is  the  curse  of  treachery  like  mine 
To  be  most  hated  where  it  most  has  serv'd." 

Sir  William  Howe's  course  shows  that  he  acted  on  Demont's  plans 
and  information ;  for,  reaching  Dobb's  Ferry  on  the  6th  of  September 
with  his  army,  he  the  next  day  dispatched  his  park  of  artillery  to  Kings- 
bridge,  with  a  strong  escort,  to  join  von  Knyphausen.  And  the  first 
step  after  its  arrival  was  to  place  batteries  in  position  on  the  Westchester 
side  of  the  Harlem  river,  to  cover  selected  points  of  attack  on  the  New 
York  side.  The  next  three  days  were  occupied  by  the  necessary  prepa 
rations  for  an  assault,  and  in  sending  a  brigade  of  Hessians  to  von 

22  MOUNT  WASHINGTON  AND   ITS   CAPTURE  NOV.  1 6    1776 

Knyphausen,  whose  own  headquarters  were  also  on  the  Westchester 
side  of  Harlem  river.'  About  the  9th  or  loth  of  November  a  deserter 
named  Broderick  came  one  cold  rainy  night  over  to  Captain  Graydon 
while  he  was  on  guard  at  the  Point  of  Rocks,  who  told  him  "  that  we 
might  expect  to  be  attacked  in  six  or  eight  days  at  furthest,  as  some  time 
had  been  employed  in  transporting  heavy  artillery  to  the  other  side  of 
the  Haerlem,  and  as  the  preparations  for  the  assault  were  nearly  com 
pleted."  On  the  1 2th  Howe's  whole  army  marched  to  Kingsbridge,  and 
encamped  the  next  day  on  the  high  ground  on  the  same  side  of  that 
river,  with  its  right  on  the  Bronx  and  its  left  on  the  Hudson.  On  the 
night  of  the  I4th,  undiscovered  by  either  Magaw  or  Greene,  thirty 
boats,  chiefly  from  the  transport  fleet  under  Captains  Wilkinson  and 
Malloy,  passed  up  the  North  river,  and  through  Spuyten  Duyvel  to  the 
Harlem  river. 

Howe  had  determined  on  four  separate  assaults  upon  Mount  Wash 
ington  ;  the  first  and  main  one  by  von  Knyphausen  and  the  Hessians 
from  Kingsbridge,  aided  by  the  man-of-war  Pearl  lying  in  the  North 
river ;  the  second  by  boats  across  the  Harlem  river  with  English  troops 
upon  Laurel  Hill ;  the  third  by  Scotch  troops  under  Colonel  Sterling, 
also  by  boats  across  the  Harlem  river,  upon  the  hill  inside  the  American 
lines  of  fortification  near  the  Morris  House ;  and  the  fourth  by  Earl 
Percy,  with  English  and  a  few  German  troops  to  march  from  the  lines  at 
McGowan's  pass  upon  the  American  lines  to  the  southward  of  Mount 
Washington.  Batteries  on  the  Harlem  river  opposite  the  chosen  points 
of  attack  covered  them  completely.1 

Such  was  the  British  plan  of  attack. 

What  were  Greene  at  Fort  Lee,  and  Magaw  at  Mount  Washington, 
doing  all  this  time  ?  And  what  was  the  action  of  the  Commander-in- 
Chief  ? 

Washington  on  the  5th  of  November  replied  through  his  Secretary, 
Harrison,  to  Greene's  request  of  the  3oth  of  October  above  mentioned, 
for  his  "  mind  "  as  to  holding  all  Fort  Washington,  "  that  the  holding  or 
not  holding  the  grounds  between  Kingsbridge  and  the  lower  lines  de 
pends  upon  so  many  circumstances,  that  it  is  impossible  for  him  to  deter 
mine  the  point.  He  submits  it  entirely  to  your  discretion  and  such 
judgment  as  you  shall  be  able  to  form  from  the  enemy's  movements,  and 
the  whole  complexion  of  things.  He  says,  you  know  the  original  design 
was  to  garrison  the  works  and  preserve  the  lower  lines  as  long  as  they 
could  be  kept,  that  the  communication  across  the  river  might  be  open 

'Howe's  first  Dispatch,  Nov.  30.     Force  5th  series,  vol.  iii,  pp.  921,  925. 

MOUNT   WASHINGTON   AND    ITS   CAPTURE   NOV.  1 6    1776  23 

to  us,  and  the  enemy  at  the  same  time  should  be  prevented  from  having 
a  passage  up  and  down  the  river  for  their  ships."1 

On  the  7th  Washington  writes  personally  to  Greene :  "  We  conceive 
that  Fort  Washington  will  be  an  object  for  part  of  his  (Howe's)  force,  while 
New  Jersey  may  claim  the  attention  of  the  other  part.  To  guard  against 
the  evils  arising  from  the  first,  I  must  recommend  you  to  pay  every  at 
tention  in  your  power,  and  give  every  assistance  you  can,  to  the  garri 
son  opposite.  If  you  have  not  sent  my  boxes,  with  camp 
tables,  and  chairs,  be  so  good  as  to  let  them  remain  with  you,  as  I  do 
not  know  but  I  shall  move  with  the  troops  designed  for  the  Jerseys,  per 
suaded  as  I  am  of  their  having  turned  their  views  that  way."2 

Surely  this  was  full  authority  to  Greene  to  reinforce  Mount  Washing 
ton  if  he  saw  fit,  and  as  surely  Washington  did  not  expect  it  to  be  the  object 
of  Howe's  "  views."  The  next  day  (the  8th)  he  heard  of  the  passage  of 
three  British  vessels  up  the  North  river,  and  thereby  convinced  of  the 
inefficiency  of  the  obstructions  therein,  wrote  Greene :  "  What  valu 
able  purpose  can  it  answer  to  attempt  to  hold  a  post  from  which  the  ex 
pected  benefit  cannot  be  had  ?  I  am,  therefore,  inclined  to  think  it  will 
not  be  prudent  to  hazard  the  men  and  stores  at  Mount  Washington,  but 
as  you  are  on  the  spot  leave  it  to  you  to  give  such  orders  as  to  evacu 
ating  Mount  Washington  as  you  judge  best,  and  so  far  revoking  the 
order  given  to  Colonel  Magaw  to  defend  it  to  the  last."3 

This,  though  a  strong  opinion,  still  left  it  to  Greene's  judgment,  and 
the  latter  replies  on  the  9th,  after  visiting  the  post  the  evening  before : 
"  Upon  the  whole  I  cannot  help  thinking  the  garrison  is  an  advantage ; 
and  I  cannot  conceive  the  garrison  to  be  in  any  great  danger.  The  men 
can  be  brought  off  at  any  time,  but  the  stores  may  not  so  easily  be  re 
moved,  yet  I  think  they  can  be  got  off  in  spite  of  them,  if  matters  grow 
desperate.  This  post  is  of  no  consequence  only  in  conjunction  with 
Mount  Washington.  I  was  over  there  last  evening ;  the  enemy  seem  to 
be  disposing  matters  to  besiege  the  place ;  but  Colonel  Magaw  thinks  it 
will  take  them  till  December  expires  before  they  can  carry  it."4 

Two  letters  passed  from  Greene  to  Washington — the  one  on  the  loth 
and  the  other  on  the  nth,  and  the  only  reference  to  Mount  Washington 
in  either  is  the  closing  line  of  the  latter,  "  the  enemy  remains  quiet  there 
this  afternoon."5 

Garrison's  Letter.     Force  5th  series,  vol.  iii.  p.  519. 
2Force  5th  series,  vol.  iii,  p.  557. 
3Ibid.  p.  602. 
4Ibid.  p.  619. 
slbid.  p.  638. 

24  MOUNT   WASHINGTON   AND   ITS   CAPTURE   NOV.     1 6    1/76 

Washington  wrote  no  other  letter  to  Greene  after  that  of  the  8th.  On 
the  loth  he  left  White  Plains,  where  he  had  been  all  the  time,  at  11  A.  M., 
and  rode  to  Peekskill.  The  nth  he  spent  in  a  reconnoissance  of  the 
Highlands,  and  on  the  1 2th,  after  writing  two  letters,1  crossed  the  North 
river  to  the  ferry  landing  below  Stoney  Point  on  his  way  to  the  army  in 
Jersey.  The  same  day  Greene  wrote  President  Hancock ;  "  I  expect 
General  Howe  will  attempt  to  possess  himself  of  Mount  Washington, 
but  very  much  doubt  whether  he  will  succeed  in  the  attempt.  Our 
troops  are  much  fatigued  with  the  amazing  duty,  but  are  generally  in 
good  spirits."2 

As  Washington  crossed  the  Hudson  he  saw  the  three  British  men  of 
war,  which  had  come  up  on  the  7th,  quietly  riding  at  anchor  in  the 
Tappan  Sea.  The  obstructions  and  chevaux-dc-frise  from  which  so 
much  had  been  expected  had  been  passed  with  ease.  They  were  absolute 
failures.  The  British  ships  neither  went  over  them  nor  through  them, 
but  around  them,  close  in,  on  either  the  eastern  or  western  shore,  one 
of  the  largest  vessels,  which  it  was  proposed  to  sink,  in  consequence  of  a 
blunder  bilged  and  went  down  far  from  her  destined  position,  and  part 
of  the  chevaux-de-frise  found  after  the  capture,  having  apparently  never 
been  used.3 

On  the  i4th  November  Washington  wrote  a  long  letter  to  the 
President  of  Congress,  dated  at  ."  General  Greene's  Head-quarters," 
beginning,  "  I  have  the  honor  to  inform  you  of  my  arrival  here  yester 
day,"  in  which  he  discussed  at  length  various  subjects  of  public  concern, 
but  remarked  casually  on  the  movements  of  the  enemy  that,  "  it  seems  to 
be  generally  believed  on  all  hands  that  the  investing  of  Fort  Washington 
is  one  object  they  have  in  view,"  and  closed  with  the  words,  "  I  propose 
to  stay  in  this  neighborhood  a  few  days,  in  which  time  I  expect  the 
designs  of  the  enemy  will  become  disclosed,  and  their  incursions  be 
made  in  this  quarter,  or  their  investiture  of  Fort  Washington,  if  they  are 

This  shows  clearly  that  both  Washington  and  Greene  were  in  doubt 
on  the  1 4th,  the  day  before  Mount  Washington  was  summoned  to  surren 
der,  whether  it  was  to  be  attacked  or  not. 

On  the  1 5th,  the  day  of  the  summons,  Washington  wrote  two  letters 
to  the  Board  of  War,  one  dated,  "  General  Greene's  Quarters,"  on  an 

'One  to  General  Lee,  and  the  other — a  very  full  one — of  instructions  to  General  Heath. 
Mount  Washington  is  mentioned  in  neither.  Ibid.  656,  657. 

2Force  5th  series,  vol.  iii,  p.  653. 

3British  return  of  ordnance  and  stores  taken  from  I2th  of  October  to  2oth  of  November,  1776. 
Force  5th  series,  vol.  iii,  p.  1058-9. 

MOUNT   WASHINGTON   AND   ITS   CAPTURE   NOV.  1 6  1776  25 

exchange  of  ladies,  and  the  other  dated  "  Hackensack,"  on  an  exchange 
of  prisoners  with  the  enemy,  but  alludes  in  neither  to  Mount  Washing 

The  arrival  undiscovered,  of  his  boats  after  midnight  of  the  I4th, 
completed  Howe's  preparations,  but  the  next  day  proving  unfavorable,  he 
postponed  the  attack  to  the  i6th.  A  short  time  after  noon  on  the  i5th, 
a  mounted  officer,  with  two  or  three  companions  under  a  white  flag, 
crossed  Kingsbridge,  and  slowly  ascended  the  heights  towards  Fort 
Washington.  The  American  commander  sent  down  to  meet  him  Colonel 
Swoope  of  Pennsylvania.  The  officer  proved  to  be  Lieutenant-Colonel 
Patterson,  the  Adjutant-General  of  the  British  Army,  who  bore  a  sum 
mons  to  Colonel  Magaw  to  surrender  at  discretion  or  suffer  the  conse 
quences  of  a  storm,  which  by  military  law  is  liability  to  be  put  to  the 
sword  if  taken,  and  he  required  an  answer  in  two  hours. 

Magaw  at  once  dispatched  a  note  with  the  intelligence  to  Greene  at 
Fort  Lee,  saying  to  him  at  the  same  time,  "  we  are  determined  to  defend 
the  post  or  die."  He  then  returned  to  the  summons  this  brave  answer, 
addressed  "  To  the  Adjutant  General  of  the  British  Army. — Sir,  If  I 
rightly  understand  the  purport  of  your  message  from  General  Howe, 
communicated  to  Colonel  Swoope,  this  post  is  to  be  immediately  surren 
dered,  or  the  garrison  put  to  the  sword.  I  rather  think  it  is  a  mistake 
than  a  settled  resolution  in  General  Howe,  to  act  a  part  so  unworthy  of 
himself  and  the  British  Nation.  But  give  me  leave  to  assure  his  excel 
lency  that  actuated  by  the  most  glorious  cause  that  mankind  ever  fought 
in,  I  am  determined  to  defend  this  post  to  the  very  last  extremity." 

ROB'T  MAGAW,  Colonel  Commanding. 

On  receiving  this  note,  Greene  instantly  ordered  Heard's  brigade 
"  to  hasten  on,"  directed  Magaw  to  defend  to  the  last,  and  then  in  a  let 
ter  dated  "  Fort  Lee,  4  o'clock,"  sent  enclosed  Magaw's  dispatch  an 
nouncing  Howe's  summons  to  Washington,  who  was  at  Hackensack,  ar 
ranging  for  the  reception  of  the  American  Army  then  crossing  into  New 
Jersey.  In  his  communication  Greene  said,  "  the  contents  will  require 
your  Excellency's  attention."2  Washington  immediately  started  for  Fort 
Lee  ;  arrived  there  he  found  that  Greene  was  on  the  New  York  side,  and 
himself  embarked  to  cross  the  river  to  the  fort  about  9  o'clock  at  night, 
"  and  [in  his  own  words,]  had  partly  crossed  the  North  River,  when  I 
met  General  Putnam  and  General  Greene,  who  were  just  returning  from 

1  Force  5th  series,  vol.  iii,  p.  699. 
slbid.  6qg,  700. 


thence,  and  informed  me  that  the  troops  were  in  high  spirits  and  would 
make  a  good  defence  ;  and  it  being  late  at  night  I  returned." 

The  morning  of  the  i6th  November,  1776,  broke  bright  and  fair.  The 
mists  in  the  deep  valley  of  the  Harlem  had  not  yet  risen  when  Lieuten- 
ant-General  von  Knyphausen,  at  the  head  of  his  Germans,  marched 
from  their  camp  on  its  Westchester  side  across  Kingsbridge,  and  joined 
a  small  body  of  the  same  troops  that  had  lain  upon  the  island. 

He  had  made  a  special  request  of  Sir  William  Howe  that  the  main 
attack  might  be  made  by  himself  at  the  head  of  German  regiments  only, 
and  it  had  been  granted.  Forming  his  troops,  consisting  of  detachments 
from  his  own  corps,  von  Rahl's  brigade  and  the  Waldeck  regiment,  3,000 
in  all,  according  to  Graydon,  into  two  columns,  the  right  nearest  the  Hud 
son  under  Colonel  von  Rahl,  and  the  left  under  Major-General  von  Schmid, 
the  whole  commanded  by  himself,  he  pressed  forward  about  seven  o'clock 
supported  by  a  terrific  cannonade  from  all  the  British  batteries,  intend 
ed  to  confuse  the  Americans  as  to  the  real  point  of  the  main  attack.  But 
receiving  word  from  Howe  that  all  was  not  quite  ready,  he  rested  quietly 
till  the  final  arrangements  for  the  other  assaults  were  made.  The  sun 
had  risen  well  above  the  Westchester  hills  on  the  eastern  edge  of  the 
valley,  when  a  gun  from  the  British  battery  farthest  down  the  Harlem 
suddenly  threw  a  shot  into  the  American  lines  south  of  Fort  Washing 
ton.  Then  pushing  forward  a  battery  of  Hessian  field-guns  far  enough 
to  engage  the  American  batteries  on  the  hill  above  what  is  now  called 
Inwood,  he  put  his  columns  in  motion,  each  preceded  by  an  advance  guard 
of  about  100  men.  Von  Rahl  on  the  right,  passing  through  the  break  in 
the  hills  forming  the  present  entrance  to  Inwood,  close  along  the  Hudson 
river,  pressed  through  the  woods  up  the  northern  end  of  the  long  hill 
on  which  Fort  Washington  stood,  supported  by  the  guns  of  the  Pearl 
frigate,  which  lay  opposite  the  break,  and  fiercely  attacked  the  Ameri 
can  battery  and  redoubt  on  its  crest,  defended  by  Colonel  Rawling's 
regiment  of  Maryland  riflemen,  under  himself  and  Major  Otho  Williams, 
and  some  Pennsylvania  troops.  The  pass  was  steep,  narrow,  covered 
with  woods,  and  well  defended.  The  greatest  gallantry  was  shown  on 
both  sides.  Again  and  again  the  Germans  attacked,  and  again  and  again 
were  repelled.  Fighting  behind  intrenchments,  the  Americans  had  the 
advantage  of  position  ;  the  Germans  that  of  numbers.  Many  were  killed 
on  both  sides,  but  far  more  of  the  latter  than  the  former. 

The  American  guns,  only  three  in  number,  served  rapidly  and  well, 
did  great  execution.  But  courage  and  numbers  finally  prevailed  over 
courage  and  intrenchments,  and  the  Germans,  with  a  shout,  at  last  car- 

MOUNT   WASHINGTON    AND   ITS   CAPTURE   NOV.  l6    1776  27 

ried  the  crest  oi  the  hill,  and  drove  the  Americans,  whose  rifles  at  the 
last  had  become  almost  too  foul  for  use,  from  their  works. 

Von  Schmid's  column,  with  which  von  Knyphausen  himself  was, 
took  a  more  easterly  route,  and  attacked  the  same  position  a  little  nearer 
the  Kingsbridge  road,  but  having  to  penetrate  a  triple  abatis  of  felled 
trees,  and  to  go  through  a  thick  undergrowth  covering  the  declivity,  they 
were  somewhat  delayed ;  but  forcing  their  way  through,  von  Knyphau 
sen  in  person  leading  and  helping  to  break  down  the  obstructions  with 
his  own  hands,  the  two  German  columns  united  upon  the  summit  of  the 
hill,  and  completed  the  discomfiture  of  the  Americans,  Avho  retreated 
along  its  flat  top  to  the  fort. 

Just  as  the  Germans  became  fully  engaged  the  English  regiments  of 
light  infantry  and  guards,  four  in  number,  under  Brigadier-General 
Mathews,  supported  by  the  First  and  Second  Grenadiers  and  the  Thir 
ty-third  foot,  under  Cornwallis,  in  thirty  boats,  under  cover  of  a  tre 
mendous  fire  from  the  British  batteries  on  its  Westchester  side,  crossed 
Harlem  river  to  Sherman's  Creek.  Though  met  with  a  sharp  fire,  they 
instantly  ascended  the  face  of  Laurel  Hill,  high  wooded  and  precipitous, 
the  fallen  leaves,  yet  moist  with  the  rain  of  the  preceding  day,  render 
ing  the  footing  still  more  difficult,  and  drove  from  the  battery  on  its  brow 
and  its  summit  the  Pennsylvania  troops  (the  last  reinforcements  sent 
over  from  Fort  Lee)  whom  Magaw  had  detailed  to  defend  it.  Though 
defeated  and  forced  to  retreat,  they  made  a  brave  defense.  Colonel 
Baxter  (their  commander)  being  killed,  sword  in  hand,  at  the  head  of  his 
men.  About  eight  o'clock  Earl  Percy  with  two  brigades,  one  English 
and  the  other  Hessian  under  von  Stein,  began  the  attack  upon  the 
lines  to  the  south  of  Mount  Washington.  With  this  corps  was  Sir 
William  Howe  himself,  who  animated  the  troops  by  his  presence  and 
personal  bravery.  The  American  lines  were  defended  by  Colonel  Lam 
bert  Cadwallader  at  the  head  of  his  own,  and  Magaw's  Pennsylvania 
battalions  and  some  broken  companies  from  Miles'  and  other  regiments, 
chiefly  from  Pennsylvania.  Driving  them  from  a  small  outwork  and  the 
first  fortified  line  across  the  island,  Percy  rested,  extending  his  line  how 
ever  to  the  North  river. 

As  soon  as  he  obtained  this  advantage  orders  were  sent  to  Colonel 
Sterling  (whose  attack,  originally  intended  as  a  feint,  was  now  changed 
into  reality),  on  the  Harlem  river,  who  with  the  Highlanders,  sup 
ported  by  two  battalions  of  the  Second  Brigade,  instantly  crossed 
the  river  in  boats  and  landed  at  the  foot  of  the  hill,  near  the  Morris 
House,  inside  of  the  American  lines.  Magaw,  who  had  remained  at  the 

2g  MOUNT   WASHINGTON   AND    ITS   CAPTURE   NOV.  l6    1776 

centre  of  the  position  with  a  few  men,  in  order  to  direct  all  the  opera 
tions,  at  once  sent  about  a  hundred  men  to  oppose  them,  and  Cadwall- 
ader  also  dispatched  about  one  hundred  and  fifty  for  the  same  purpose. 
They  poured  a  heavy  fire  into  Sterling's  boats  as  they  reached  the  shore, 
killing-  and  wounding  many  men,  but  failed  to  stop  his  landing,  as 
they  were  only  aided  by  a  single  eighteen  pound  gun.  Leaving  behind 
their  Major,  named  Murray,  a  man  so  fat  he  could  not  keep  pace  with 
them,  the  Highlanders,  in  kilt  and  tartan,  rushed  up  the  ascent  with 
such  speed  and  dash  that  they  actually  made  prisoners  of  about  a  hun 
dred  and  seventy  of  the  Americans.  Hearing  his  calls,  some  of  his 
men  then  went  back  and  helped  their  stout  Major  to  the  top  of  the  hill. 

When  Stirling's  fire  was  heard,  Percy  again  quickly  advanced, 
and  Cadwallader,  after  a  short  and  brisk  contest  at  the  second  line,  find 
ing  himself  in  danger  of  being  cut  off  by  the  Highlanders,  retreated 
to  the  Fort,  into  which  the  flying  Americans  had  crowded  in  disor 
der  as  they  were  driven  from  their  respective  lines  of  defence. 

Knyphausen's  columns  having  neared  the  fort  first,  and  taken  a 
commanding  position  within  a  hundred  yards  of  its  west  side,  he  sent  a 
second  summons  to  surrender,  which  was  received  by  Cadwallader  and 
referred  to  Magaw. 

The  fort  itself  does  not  seem  to  have  fired  at  all.  It  was  in  fact  so 
crowded  by  the  fugitive  Americans  that  they  would  have  been  slaught 
ered  in  masses  had  it  been  defended  and  stormed.  When  they  first  be 
gan  to  crowd  in  Magaw  endeavored  to  animate  them,  urging  them  again 
to  man  the  lines,  but  in  vain.  They  could  not  again  be  rallied. 

When  Washington  from  Fort  Lee  saw  the  success  of  the  German  at 
tack,  he  sent  Captain  Gooch  over  the  river  with  a  note  to  Colonel  Magaw 
to  try  and  hold  out  till  night,  when  he  would  endeavor  to  relieve  him 
and  bring  off  the  garrison.  Gooch  rowed  across,  delivered  the  note, 
and  returned  in  safety  with  the  answer.  But  his  mission  was  too  late. 
Magaw  had  proceeded  so  far  in  his  negotiations  for  a  surrender  that  he 
could  not  withdraw.  After  much  parley,  he  signed  articles  of  capitu 
lation  with  General  von  Knyphausen  and  Colonel  Patterson,  the  British 
Adjutant  General,  by  which  safety  of  persons  and  baggage  was  guar 
anteed,  and  the  fort  then  surrendered  to  the  British,  who  subsequently, 
in  honor  of  the  gallantry  of  the  Germans  and  their  commander,  changed 
its  name  to  Fort  Knyphausen. 

Demont's  treason  had  done  its  work,  and  the  flag  of  England  again 
waved  over  the  entire  island  of  New  York.  Twenty-eight  hundred  and 
eighteen  prisoners,  including  officers,  forty-three  guns,  and  a  large  quan- 

MOUNT   WASHINGTON   AND   ITS   CAPTURE  NOV.  1 6    1 776  29 

tity  of  military  stores,  including  "  200  iron  fraise  of  four  hundred 
weight  each,  supposed  to  be  intended  to  stop  the  navigation  of  Hud 
son's  River,"  fell  into  the  hands  of  the  victors,  besides  2,800  muskets, 
400,000  cartridges,  15  barrels  of  powder,  and  several  thousand  shot 
and  shell.  The  loss  of  the  Americans  was  four  officers  killed  and  three 
wounded,  and  fifty  privates  killed  and  ninety  wounded,  a  total  of  one  hun 
dred  and  forty-seven.  The  British  loss  was  seventy-eight  killed  and  three 
hundred  and  eighty  wounded,  a  total  of  four  hundred  and  fifty -eight; 
of  which  that  of  the  Hessians  alone  was  fifty-eight  killed  and  two  hundred 
and  seventy-two 1  wounded,  including  officers,  being  in  all  three  hun 
dred  and  thirty.  The  British  forces  engaged  were,  according  to  Gray- 
don,  three  thousand  under  von  Knyphausen,  eight  hundred  under  Stir 
ling,  and  sixteen  hundred  under  Percy.  Mathews'  numbers  he  does  not 
give,  but  as  there  were  seven  regiments,  of  only  about  five  hundred 
effective  men  each,  they  may  be  set  down  as  thirty-five  hundred, 
making  a  total  force  of  eighty-nine  hundred.  Sir  William  Howe's 
dispatch  gives  merely  the  names  of  the  regiments  engaged,  not 
their  numbers. 

In  the  defense  of  Mount  Washington  Magaw  seems  to  have  disposed 
of  his  men  to  the  best .  advantage,  considering  its  great  extent  and  his 
numbers,  especially  as  he  had  to  make  his  full  dispositions  after  the  Brit 
ish  plan  had  developed  itself ;  and  he  did  his  duty  faithfully. 

Washington's  private  judgment  was  opposed  to  holding  the  post 
after  the  retreat  from  New  York,  but  he  was  governed  by  the  wishes 
of  Congress  and  the  decisions  of  his  Council  of  War.  When  the  British 
ships  last  passed  up  the  river  in  spite  of  the  obstructions,  he  strongly 
advised,  and  also  authorized,  General  Greene  and  Magaw  to  abandon 
the  post,  but  did  not  command  it  to  be  done.  He  was  present,  too,  at 
Greene's  quarters  at  Fort  Lee  and  at  Hackensack  from  the  I3th,  when  he 
found  his  advice  had  not  been  followed,  to  the  i6th,  and  during  this 
time  could  easily  have  ordered  the  post  abandoned  and  the  garrison 
withdrawn,  if  he  had  seen  fit.  On  the  other  hand,  General  Greene  was 
for  holding  the  fortress  throughout  from  the  very  first.  After  the  last 
passage  of  the  frigates  he  was  left  to  use  his  own  discretion  whether  to 
abandon  it  or  not  by  the  Commander-in-Chief,  and  he  exercised  that 
discretion  by  holding  it,  as  he  had  a  perfect  right  to  do.  Neither  Gen 
eral  should  be  censured  at  the  expense  of  the  other — each  did  what  he 
thought  was  for  the  best  under  the  circumstances,  and  neither  dreamt 

1  Force  iii,  925,  British  returns  of  ordnance  and  stores  taken.     Ibid.,  1058,  Howe's  dispatch. 

30  MOUNT  WASHINGTON   AND    ITS   CAPTURE   NOV.    1 6    1/76 

that  he  had  treason  to  contend  against.  The  loss  of  Fort  Washington 
was  due  to  the  first  traitor  of  the  American  Army,  William  Demont. 

There  were  instances  on  both  sides  in  this  action  of  humor  and  gaity, 
as  well  as  of  intrepidity  and  valor,  in  the  midst  of  danger.  One  instance 
of  the  latter  must  be  mentioned,  which  has  rarely  been  equalled  or  sur 
passed.  In  one  of  the  Pennsylvania  regiments  was  a  soldier  named  Corbin, 
who  was  accompanied  by  his  wife.  His  post  was  at  one  of  the  guns  in 
the  battery  on  the  hill  attacked  by  the  Hessians,  where  the  battle  raged 
hardest,  hottest,  and  longest ;  for  it  was  between  two  and  three  hours  be 
fore  the  Germans  succeeded  in  carrying  that  position.  In  the  midst  of 
the  fight  Corbin,  struck  by  a  ball,  fell  dead  at  his  wife's  feet  as  she  was 
aiding  him  in  his  duties.  Instantly,  without  a  word,  she  stepped  into 
his  place  and  worked  the  gun  with  redoubled  skill  and  vigor,  fighting 
bravely  till  she  sank  to  the  earth,  pierced  by  three  grapeshot  in  the 
shoulder.  Though  terribly  wounded,  she  .finally  recovered,  but  was  dis 
abled  for  life.  A  soldier's  half-pay  and  the  value  of  a  soldier's  suit  of 
clothes,  annually  voted  her  by  the  Continental  Congress  while  John  Jay 
presided,  was  all  the  reward  that  the  first  woman  who  fought  foi' 
American  liberty  ever  received  for  such  heroic  love,  courage,  and 

Thirty-two  years  afterward  Spain's  glowing,  dark-eyed  daughter, 
erect  in  the  deadly  breach,  fiercely  defending  her  native  city  against 
the  French  invader,  and  hurling  vengeance  on  the  slayers  of  her  lover 
dead  at  her  feet,  burst  upon  the  world  never  to  be  forgotten.  The  deed 
of  Augustina  of  Aragon,  the  Maid  of  Zaragoza,  was  not  nobler,  truer, 
braver  than  that  of  Margaret  Corbin  of  Pennsylvania.  Byron's  im 
mortal  lines  are  as  true  of  the  one  as  of  the  other : 

"  Her  lover  sinks, — she  sheds  no  ill  timed  tear, 
Her  chief  is  slain, — she  fills  his  fatal  post; 
The  foe  retires, — she  heads  the  sallying  host: 
Who  can  appease,  like  her,  a  lover's  ghost? 


NOTE. — This  account  is  an  extended  statement  of  one  of  Mr.  E.  F.  DeLancey's  editorial 
notes  in  the  first  volume  of  the  History  of  New  York  during  the  American  Revolution,  written  at 
its  close  by  the  Hon.  Thomas  Jones,  of  Queens  county,  Long  Island  (giving  a  Loyalist  account  of 
the  war),  now  in  press,  and  soon  to  be  issued  by  the  New  York  Historical  Society. 


From  Moms  House  toM^  Gowans  Pass , 

Jteductionof'XauthierbMapUrami  Jot .<  r/776. 

aao;  Barradui  &ui&  by  the 
Americas/ sand  turned, 
on  tJieir  retreat. 



ORDERLY       BOOK        AT       MOUNT       WASH 

The  following  is  a  copy  of  all  the 
entries  in  the  Orderly  Book  of  Colonel 
Magaw,  taken  from  the  original  by  the 
kind  permission  of  its  present  owner,  the 
Rev.  Dr.  Joseph  A.  Murray,  of  Carlisle, 
Pennsylvania.  It  begins  October  3ist, 
1776,  but  unfortunately  stops  November 
loth,  1776,  six  days  before  the  surrender. 
The  order  of  Nov.  ist,  increasing  the 
picket  guards  very  strongly  for  the  2d, 
may  have  been  the  proximate  cause  of 
Demont's  departure.  He  probably  did 
not  want  to  run  the  risk  of  the  increased 
numbers  of  pickets,  and  therefore  went 
over  to  the  enemy  before  they  were  act 
ually  placed  on  guard.  E.  F.  de  L. 

"Harlem  Heights,  October  25th. 
Parole  Danvers.     Co.  Sign  Newberry. 

Saturday,  October  26th. 
Parole  Lexington.    Co.  Sign  Concord. 

Sunday,  October  27th. 
Parole  Roxbury.  Co.  Sign   Cambridge. 

Monday,  October  28th. 
Parole  Litchfield.     Co.  Sign   Norwich. 

Tuesday,  October  29th. 
Parole  Berks.     Co.  Sign   Reading. 

Wednesday,  October  3oth. 
Parole  Lancaster.     Co.  Sign  York. 

Thursday,  October  3ist. 
Parole  Cumberland.    Co.  Sign  Carlisle. 

Friday,  November  ist. 
Parole  Pittsburgh.     Co.  Sign  Bedford. 

Coll.  Magaw's  Orders. 
Ninety  men  for  Picquet  towards  New 
York  tomorrow,  to  be  stationed    as  fol 

lows — North  River,  i  Sub.  and  20;  Hol- 
loway,  i  Sergt.  and  10;  Point  of  Rocks, 
i  Sub.  and  20 ;  Works  near  Harlaem 
River,  i  Sub.  and  20;  One  Capt.  at  the 
Point  of  Rocks  or  North  River;  i  Sub. 
and  20  on  the  East  River  between  Head 
quarters  and  Fort  Washington.  Weekly 
returns  to  be  given  in  before  12  o'clock 
at  Noon,  of  the  strength  of  the  several 
Regiments  and  Detachments  of  our 
Troops  now  on  this  Island,  that  duty  may 
be  proportioned. 

Capt.  Longs  Company  to  join  Coll. 
Rawlings  Battn.;  in  the  mean  time  Capt. 
Moulton,  of  the  Artillery,  will  appoint 
one  of  his  Officers  to  act  as  Fort  Major 
who  will  prevent  all  doubtfull  or  suspect 
ed  persons  entering  the  Fort,  and  observe 
such  Orders  As  may  be  given  by  the 
Commanding  Officer  or  Capt.  Moulton. 

Saturday,  November  2d. 
Parole  Amboy.    Co.  Sign  Woodbridge. 

Sunday,  November  3d. 
Parole  Morris.     Co.  Sign   Potter. 

Monday,  November  4th. 
Parole  Sabrook.     Co.  Sign   Enfield. 

No  cattle  or  hogs  to  be  suffered  in  the 
Fort.  No  passes  or  passages  to  be  made 
on  any  pretence  whatsoever  through  the 
Abbatis,  Lieut.  Coll.  Wypert  is  to  be  at 
liberty  to  have  any  Tents  or  obstructions 
removed  which  may  be  in  his  way  in 
strengthening  the  works;  all  Officers  to 
give  him  assistance  for  that  purpose. 
The  Officers  of  the  several  Guards  to 
recommend  the  greatest  allertness  to  their 
Centinels  at  this  time  and  place,  the  most 
dangerous,  important,  and  honourable, 
Post  that,  perhaps,  Americans  were  ever 
placed  in.  The  Liberty  of  this  great  and 
free  Continent  may  in  great  measure  de- 


pend  on  our  vigilance  and  bravery.  Mr. 
John  Morgan  is  to  act  as  Brigade  Major, 
all  passes  signed  by  him  to  be  considered 
as  good. 

The  Adjutants  or  Sergt.  Majors  of  the 
several  battalions  to  attend  at  Headquar 
ters  at  3  o'clock  every  day  for  orders, 
which  will  be  delivered  by  Mr.  Morgan, 
he  will  also  deliver  them  the  Parole  and 
Counter  Sign  in  the  Evening.  Each  Bat 
talion  and  Detachment  to  make  out  exact 
returns  of  their  strength  on  this  Island, 
both  fit  for  duty  and  sick,  as  orders  are 
received  to  transmit  the  returns  to  the 
Commander  in  Chief,  and  the  Congress, 
these  returns  to  be  made  by  12  o'clock 

Tuesday,  November  5th. 

Parole   Bristol.     Co.   Sign     Frankfort. 

Notwithstanding  the  frequent  general 
orders  against  fireing  guns  about  the  Camp 
and  wanton  waste  of  Amunition,  This 
destructive  practice  still  prevails,  Officers 
are  to  be  very  vigilant  and  detect  and 
confine  offenders,  and  also  to  examine 
the  Cartouch  Boxes  at  least  twice  a  week, 
and  charge  the  men  6d  pr  Cartridge  for 
such  as  cant  be  accounted  for. 

Wednesday,  November  6th. 

Parole  Dover.      Co.  Sign   Darby. 

The  Officers  of  the  Guards  on  the 
lines  are  to  be  very  punctual  in  giveing 
strict  orders  to  the  Centinels  to  permit 
no  person  who  is  not  in  this  service  to 
come  within  the  lines,  but  such  as  come 
to  continue,  as  they  will  not  on  any  pre 
tence  whatever  be  permitted  to  return, 
likewise  no  person  to  pass  from  here  be 
yond  the  lines,  as  they  will  not  on  any 
account  be  suffered  to  return. 

The  Adjutants  and  Sergt.  Majors  of 
the  several  battalions  and  detachments 
are  to  be  carefull  that  all  their  officers 
have  the  Reading  the  above  orders. 

Thursday,  November  yth. 

Parole  Washington.     Co.  Sign    Lee. 
Friday,  November  8th. 

Parole  Magaw.     Co.  Sign  Greene. 
Saturday,  November  9th. 

Parole  Cadwallader.    Co.  Sign  Beatty. 
Sunday,  November  zoth. 

Parole  Brunswick.  Co.  Sign  Burling 

eldest  son  of  William  Magaw  a  Scotch- 
Irish  lawyer  who  came,  prior  to  1752,' 
from  Strabane,  in  the  north  of  Ireland, 
to  Maryland,  and  thence  to  Carlisle,  in 
Pennsylvania.  He  was  born  in  Ireland, 
was  a  lawyer,  married  while  a  prisoner 
Marritie  Van  Brunt  of  Flatbush,  and 
died  6th  January,  1790,  at  Carlisle, 
leaving  a  son  and  daughter.  His  regi 
ment,  5th  Pennsylvania,  numbered  25 
officers  and  312  men  when  surrendered. 
— Ms.  Magaw  papers.  Letter  of  Dr. 

DODON  HENRY,  Baron  von  Knyp- 
hausen,  Lieutenant-General,  born  in  Al 
sace,  in  1730,  son  of  Baron  von  Knyp- 
hausen  a  Colonel  under  Marlborough, 
and  was  a  descendant  of  the  great 
Holland  General  of  Gustavus  Adolphus, 
whose  name  he  bore.  Tall,  spare  in  per 
son,  very  German  in  appearance,  he  was, 
though  a  strict  officer,  popular  with  both 
officers  and  men.  He  died  in  Berlin, 
in  1794,  a  full  General  in  the  Prussian 
service. —  Watson  s  Philadelphia  Bio- 
graphie  Universdle. 

prisoners  taken  at  Mt.  Washington  were 
all  paraded  near  the  Jews'  Burying 
Ground  (now  Chatham  Square).  They 
were  said  to  be  2,500;  no  insults  were 
offered  to  them  when  paraded,  nor  any 
public  huzzaing  or  rejoicing  as  was  usual 
on  similar  and  less  occasions." — Ms. 
letter  of  John  McKesson  to  Geo.  Clinton. 



This  book  is  due  on  the  last  date  stamped  below,  or  on  the 

date  to  which  renewed. 
Renewed  books  are  subject  to  immediate  recall. 


LD  21-100?n-l,'54(1887sl6)476